As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
SABRINA & PAUL
Paul Harrison used the sleeve of his white coat to give the time machine's Silver-Shaker logo a final wipe. He took a step back, set his hands on his hips, and nodded. Even though he'd personally joined and buffed every weld, and there wasn't a nut or screw he hadn't tightened himself, Paul found it difficult to realize he'd constructed a machine in which it should be possible to cross the divides of time from junk...Practically junk—a decommissioned mini submarine and the chassis of an army surplus Land Rover.
Sabrina, Paul's wife, closed the journal. Huffing as she pressed her palms against the metal desktop, she lifted herself out of the chair and, cupping her hands under her pregnant belly, said, “That must be fifty times I've checked, and yes, the calculations do stand up, but prediction and truth don't always share the same bed...So are you really—without even a sliver of doubt—really sure it will work?”
“The principles are sound, and it's more like a hundred times that you've crunched the numbers...” Crossing the basement—a room that functioned as both laboratory and workshop—“There's absolutely no reason it shouldn't be successful.”
“Have you made up your mind about when and where the maiden voyage is going to be?”
“Last week, and right here on the edge of London will be the where, as the machine doesn't move geographically and, now fully constructed, it's more than twice as wide as the door.” said Paul.
Sabrina frowned; then she caught Paul squeezing his lips in a tight line and she laughed. Not able to resist, Paul joined in. They laughed until, wet eyed, Sabrina bent forward with both hands around her heaving tummy and, through the drizzling ebb of her glee, said, “Oh...! Oh-oh-whooo! I have to stop.”
“You okay, Buttercup?”
“Just little Zachary wanting to know what's going on.” Putting an arm behind herself and pressing against her spine, Sabrina straightened. “How about you climb into that machine, go back eight and a half months, and give me that glorious night of samba and tequila all over again? Only this time, when the honey-stick spits, send some swimmers that won’t cause this child of yours to start up a protest march every time I giggle.”
“Much as I'd love to relive that night, I'm going to the future not the past—”
“The paradox thing?” Sabrina asked.
Paul smiled. “The paradox thing,” he said, knowing how the many scenarios by which a time paradox could be triggered confused Sabrina. Probably, no more than twenty people in the whole world were truly familiar with the concept. And as those twenty had nothing other than conjecture and theory for mortar to bind the bricks of time travel, the true number who really understood was a big fat zero.
“I still think you should send a monkey instead of risking it yourself,” said Sabrina.
“I can send a chimp; but how will it operate the machine to get back here?”
“Train the monkey. Pre-set the coordinates. You're the genius...There must be a way.”
“So I find the world's smartest ape, and I work out a program that guarantees it brings the time machine back in one piece; how does Primate Einstein report what he found?”
“So use one of those Neanderthals that hang out on Muscle Beach.”
“Aw, come on, Buttercup; you know that's no better than the ape option. In fact it's worse; at least the monkey will stick to doing what it's taught.”
Paul's balance was thrown completely out of kilter by a dazzling flash of orange light, and a bilious surge in the pit of his stomach, yet he still managed to grab the shoulders of the lunging silhouette that was his wife and keep her from falling. “Are you all right? What in Christ's name was that?” he asked, reorientating to his surroundings.
“I'm fine...I think.” Sabrina pushed a hand between her legs. “The floodgates haven't opened.” Done exploring, she began to stroke her belly-bump. “So I guess it's just the price a woman pays for the privilege of bonding with her son before the man gets to interfere.”
“If that had anything to do with your condition...then I must be pregnant too,” Paul said, and satisfied that Sabrina wasn't about to collapse, he stepped toward the obvious.
The machine looked innocent enough, until Paul placed his fingers over the letters branded into the stainless-steel side panel. The words Silver-Shaker were as flat and smooth as they were supposed to be—one hundred percent drag resistant. But the machine itself was warm...Paul leaned back and, on the floor, where the panel covered the front wheel, he spotted a black mark. A mark that shouldn't be there; the basement is always kept scrupulously clean.
Kneeling, Paul squeezed his fingertips under the edge of the panel. It was smudged rubber; it could only be from the slicks fitted to the Silver-Shaker.
“IT WORKS!” Paul leaped into the air like a jack-rabbit high on amphetamine. “It works! It works! It works!” he called out, bouncing his way back to Sabrina.
“How do you know it works?”
Grabbing his wife's hands, and flicking a leg to one side then his other leg the opposite way in a macabre dance, he said, “It's moved. It's shifted; there are marks on the floor. The atoms of the traveling machine must have been slightly out of alignment and...crashed, when relocating to occupy the exact same atoms that were already here.”
“Did that cause the flash?” Sabrina asked.
“Yes. Probably—yes.” As soon as Paul had agreed, he realized that until it had just happened, he'd had no real clue that the reaction of traveling and stay-at-home atoms reuniting would be so benign. Hell, what if the margin of error had been on the other side of his expectation? Holy crap! An orange flash and a freaky motion wave that has me feeling a bit pukey...That was a lucky break; the fusion might just as likely have resulted in an atomic explosion!
“But you didn't flash, Paul, so who's piloting it? Maybe you are going to train a monkey after all. Or maybe the paradox thing has kicked in, and your perfect twin is sitting in the saddle.”
Paul had to hand it to his wife; she might sometimes act the crazy-lady, and she didn't have an absolute understanding of the vagarious of time travel, but while he was jumping about like an excited schoolboy, she was analytical enough to ask the right questions.
Approaching the machine again, Paul reached out and, at the tail end of its insignia, gave its metal wall a light slap. The panel—precision-engineered to be seamless—sprang forward. Artificial light leaked from all sides of the opening, but there was no sound of movement, no sound of anything at all. Paul hooked sweaty fingers around the panel’s edge and pulled...
Not quite empty...
A powdery residue coated the seat, and there was a little more of it spread on the floor.
Pushing her hair off her forehead with one hand, Sabrina said, “If it's come back, then it's been somewhere. So where? And if you weren't piloting it, then who?”
“Not just now, please. Sorry, Buttercup, but I need some thinking time. The priority has to be this powder. Could you pass me a clean container? I need to collect a sample. And much as I hate asking, could you run some tests to find out what it is? I'd do it myself, but I'm going to have to give the Shaker's interior a rigorous going over with the vacuum cleaner. I wouldn't want to go the way of Seth Brundle.”
“Seth Brundle didn't time travel. He and his fly-guy-self got themselves all mixed up in a matter transporter,” said Sabrina.
“You remember.” Paul smiled, and for a second he was a million miles away.
“Our first date and you take me to see a horror movie. There're all sorts of reasons I'm not going to forget that!”
“Be fair, Buttercup; it was a West End premiere. Anyhow, time machine—matter transporter...same principle, isn't it?”
“No, not exactly.”
Remembering how tightly Sabrina had clung to him when a half human—half insect Jeff Goldblum had started regurgitating fly-gloop, Paul said, “Well how about we watch the movie over again some day soon, and you show me how it's different, but not until after you’re a mother. Don't want Zachary growing up having nightmares and thinking he's going to feed on rotting fruit until he sprouts wings because of a prenatal cinema experience..”
Paul had put in a solid ten hours cleaning—five yesterday, and then the entire morning—when Sabrina practically dragged him out of the Silver-Shaker, saying, “Guess what. Guess what.”
“What?” asked Paul.
“The powder...the sample, it has DNA.”
Shrugging, Paul said, “So, everything has DNA.”
“No, you don't understand. The powder has human DNA.”
“And more than that, it has our DNA.”
Paul stood wide-eyed and drop-jawed. “So...so I've traveled time, and somehow I've been disintegrated when returning. It...it must have been because I was too far from the machine. That could be it; the atoms of the Silver-Shaker landed right on top of their pre-existing atoms, but because I was on the other side of the room, my atoms were unable to reassemble with me.” Paul started patting himself on his chest then working his hands down his body as if reassuring himself he was there.
“No, Paul, not your DNA. Our DNA,” said Sabrina.
“You mean...you mean it was Zachary who piloted the machine back here?”
“No, there was DNA I couldn't identify in the mix also. It seems it was our grandson.”
“So, male DNA?”
One hand after the other, Paul ran his fingers through his hair. “Our grandson! You're sure?” He ducked his head into the machine, then pulled back out again, “The time dial’s showing sixty years; you're sure it's Zachary's child, and it wasn't our great grandson?”
“I'm positive of the generation, but it doesn't have to be Zachary's child; we could be giving him a sibling somewhere along the way.”
Paul paced a small circle, hands pushed deep into pockets. “I can save him! I can go forward in time and stop him from coming here.”
“Don't be reckless,” Sabrina said on a sharp and icy breath.
Paul was already sitting in the pilot's chair; he gave a big smile and said, “I'll only be a minute.”
“But—but the paradox. Think about the paradox,” Sabrina pleaded.
“Don't worry, Buttercup. I'm going forward in time. I can't cause a paradox.” Paul slid the panel shut and turned the red switch in the center of the dashboard to a setting just short of fully reversing the Silver-Shaker's previous journey; in less than a second, the time machine started to vibrate.
With the first perceivable movement, Paul was fear-struck: Was the machine robust enough to survive the journey? After all, every last component was salvage. His worries vanished. The Silver-Shaker would be fine; though it was Paul's first trip, it wasn't the machine’s.
Even though Paul had predicted it wouldn't, Sabrina had expected the Silver-Shaker to vanish from sight. It didn't. It vibrated while in operation, and then it just existed, perfectly static in its own space, exactly as it did before being operated. She tried to think practically; she should take notes. Damn! She hadn't even had a chance to set a clock and measure the vibration period. As a mess of thoughts untangled, she realized top of the list of things she had to do was check inside the time machine.
She stood next to the Silver-Shaker, chewing her bottom lip for a full minute before reaching out and applying pressure to the release trigger. And when the panel sprang she stepped back with a shallow gasp. With her lip not far from drawing blood, Sabrina slid back the panel.
Empty! No dust. Thank God!
Sitting herself behind the desk, Sabrina opened the journal to its first blank page and began to write.
When she had finished, she sat, eyes fixed on the Silver-Shaker, wondering what else she should do...hoping. And if it hadn't been for the upcoming and unavoidable event of giving birth to Zachary, Sabrina might have sat—waiting for another orange flash, or for the machine's trembling motion to kick in, or for anything that might announce her husband's return—until the day of the Rapture.
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
On his fourteenth birthday, Zachary's mother gave him two keys. One was for the spare room—which he'd never set foot in before; the other unlocked a trunk kept in there.
The trunk was like a treasure chest, filled with his father's records and papers. For the next two weeks, Zachary only came out of that room for meals—because Sabrina refused to bring them on a tray—and when trips to the bathroom progressed from necessary to urgent. Of all the riches the trunk contained, best was a full set of leather-bound journals, one of which was dedicated to the atom. It began with a simple account of the atom's properties: explaining that, apart from a couple of electrons flying around a nucleus consisting of a few protons and neutrons, the atom was considered to be “empty space.” As a comparison, the journal suggested the consistency of an atom was like dropping a handful of marbles into a football stadium. Following that were equations and proofs that physics didn't allow the existence of empty space. Then came the most astonishing of all of his father's theories: the part of the atom considered empty was its memory. Not unlike human memory, but without forgetfulness, an incremental imprint of the surroundings in which it existed. In essence, it encapsulated time.
The journal went on to theorize upon the possibility of solid materials—even living organisms—being able, if set to vibrate at the right frequency, to pass through the memory imprint of its constituent atoms...
Zachary was blown away! If he could discover the right vibration, he would be able to construct a machine that could travel time.
His mother had never been a morning person, so Zachary knew if he didn't get his backside out of bed and downstairs, then whoever it was pressing the buzzer and rapping their knuckles on the door would soon abandon their attempt to summon the Harrisons. Chances were it would be a salesman or, worse, a salesman claiming he was undertaking a survey; but Zachary was surprised to find a man and a woman on the step. They were old; he was tall; they both had hats on.
“Zachary! Look at you; so grown. You must be at university now—what subject are you reading?” said the lady. Puckering her painted lips and stutter-stepping, she nearly tumbled into the house. Heels clacking on the wooden floor, she loomed forward, intent on stamping a claim on Zachary's cheek.
“I start uni in September...I'm taking science,” said Zachary, shuffling in retreat.
“I'm your grandfather; this is your grandmother,” the man said, as, taking off his hat, he crossed the threshold and thrust forward a hand—that had skin the color of grilled cheese.
Bewildered, Zachary put his hand into the one offered, and felt cold fingers tighten, denying him a second chance to escape.
Lips smacked on the side of Zachary's face. “Now, where's that mother of yours?” said Grandmother, straightening up and starting to pull her gloves off.
“I'll fetch her,” said Zachary, opening the door to the living room. “Would you like to wait in here? Can I get you a coffee?”
“Do you think you could manage tea?” asked Grandmother, moving into the living room with Grandfather right behind her, the pair of them looking about as if they were measuring up for curtains and carpet.
“Tea's no problem. Sit yourselves down; won’t be a moment,” said Zachary.
Leaving the grandparents sipping tea and dunking shortbread fingers, Zachary hoped their sudden and far-from-quiet arrival had disturbed his mother enough to have her out of bed and, on reaching her room, was pleased to see through the door, which was half agape, that she had thrown on some clothes and was pushing tangles of hair into some kind of arrangement.
“My grandparents are here,” Zachary said from the doorway.
“Paul's parents?” Sabrina asked, abandoning her efforts at hairstyling and sorting through tubes and pots of make-up.
“Of course Dad's parents; your parents are dead.” Zachary shook his head and raised his eyes to the ceiling.
“Well, you told me they were.”
“No! You're sure they're your father's parents?”
Zachary pursed his lips and pressed a finger to the point of his chin. “Well they said they were, and if they're not, then we're probably being robbed by the oldest pair of cat-burglars in town.”
Sabrina rubbed color onto her eyelids, pushed a lipstick around her mouth, and then dabbed her cheekbones with it. Spreading the red dabs with her thumbs, she left the room, saying, “I know you must be curious, but I want you to stay in your room unless I call you.”
“No buts, Zachary. Paul's parents live less than ten miles away, so they can visit any day they choose to; but they haven't come to see you, or me, since you were a week old...so you just let me see why they're here today. And if it turns out they're delivering gold, frankincense, and myrrh, I'll give you a shout in good time for the share out.”
“No buts. Wait in your room.”
“Okay, but all I was going to say is, you can have all the myrrh...the frankincense too. Just leave me the shiny stuff.”
It was apparent to Zachary that his mother’s sense of humor hadn’t yet switched on. And it became apparent that his grandparents were no longer occupied by tea and biscuits when, as he crossed the hallway to his own bedroom, he heard his mother's voice rising up the staircase: “Are you looking for something? Perhaps you left a hat, or an umbrella, behind last time you were here. Let me see, when was that?”
Zachary couldn't properly hear his grandparents' response, as they both spoke at once, but when his grandmother stopped speaking, the single voice could be heard clearly, “—entrance to the basement. I know there must be one.”
“Shall we go sit in here while we talk?” Following his mother’s voice, Zachary heard footsteps and the sound of a closing door. For the next fifteen minutes, nothing any of them said was truly audible, not even when their voices were raised...until snatches of loud and fractious conversation escaped a general commotion of doors opening and closing and heavy footfall on floorboards in the hall.
“—you’re going to be sorry,” said Grandmother.
“—get the hell out of my—” said Sabrina
“Who's house?” demanded grandfather. “I loaned Paul the money—”
“—bitch,” screeched Grandmother; then she screamed.
And among all sorts of hullabaloo, Grandfather shouted, “You’re mad; you’re completely insane.”
“Oh pleeeease!” said Sabrina.
Zachary reached the bottom of the stairs to see his mother aiming a kick out through the open doorway to where Grandfather was down on one knee next to Grandmother, who lay on the garden path face bleeding and hatless. And a stranger—a woman in her forties—coming toward the house, cell-phone in hand, saying, “Is the lady all right? Do you want me to call for an ambulance?”
“Piss off,” Sabrina shouted at Grandfather. “Piss off,” she shouted again, this time at the stranger.
“An ambulance! Yes please,” said Grandfather, then looking into the house, “Zachary, get a hold of your mother—keep her under control.”
Zachary lifted a restraining arm across his mother's chest, and while swinging shut the door, he saw Grandfather and the stranger help Grandmother to her feet and begin walking her to where a small gathering of people stood at the garden gate.
Zachary was reeling; his mother was kooky...eccentric; he'd practically always known that. Now it seemed she'd flipped. Steering her back to the living room by her shoulders, he said, “Mum, what were you thinking? Hitting an old lady like that.”
“I didn't hit her.” With Zachary half forcing her, and she half volunteering, Sabrina dropped onto a sofa. “Oh my god! You think I hit her!”
“Mother. She was lying on the path bleeding.”
“He did that. It was your granddad who hit her.”
“What? He hit his own wife...? He was arguing with you. I saw you hit her.”
“No you did not!” Sabrina was wriggling herself back up from the sofa.
Holding out a halt-hand, with great deliberation, Zachary said, “You’re right, I didn't see you...not exactly—I did see you try to kick Grandfather, though.”
Sabrina sank back on the sofa, lifting an arm in front of her—a tremble, which was like a wet dog shaking dry, ran along it; eyes on the brink of tears, she looked at her son and said, “Zachary, be a sweetheart please and make me a coffee. And in the corner cabinet—top shelf—there's a blue box that has some yellow capsules in it...Would you fetch me two of them?”
Hearing her son's returning footsteps Sabrina said, “Your grandparents are up to something. Why now, I don't know; it may because your eighteenth is coming up.”
Zachary put the coffee on a low table at the side of the sofa and the meds directly into his mother's hand. “Why would they be up to anything?”
Sabrina swallowed the capsules, took a sip of coffee, and rubbed the corners of her eyes with a crumpled tissue she'd pulled from the sleeve of her cardigan. “They've always blamed me for Paul. They never liked me, even before...Just now they practically accused me of murdering him.”
“What did happen to Dad? Where did he go...? Whatever happened between you and him...I've never even had a birthday card from him! You've never really told me anything.”
“Oh, Buttercup...I can't explain. Because I don't really understand myself.”
Zachary had no idea why his mother occasionally called him Buttercup, but he quite liked it when she did—it always seemed to soothe her when she spoke it. “Well tell me, and see if I might understand.”
Sabrina lifted herself off the sofa, stepped over to the bookshelves—which, from chimney breast to corner, lined half a wall—and pulled out a copy of something by H. G. Wells that was part of a set. She turned the cover and lifted a manila envelope from under it. Handing the envelope to Zachary she said, “Promise me you won’t open that until I'm in my grave...or in some other way unavailable.”
“What's the point of giving it to me then telling me not to open it?” The envelope seemed quite old, and its yellow-brown color reminded Zachary of his grandfather's skin. He thought it might split open if he tried to fold it.
“I didn't say don't open it. I said open it at an appropriate time. And the point of giving it to you now is, I can't be certain I will be able to give it to you in the future.”
“Are you being dramatic, or are you actually paranoid?”
“Buttercup, your granddaddy has just given his wife a beating on our doorstep, a witness has come marching down our path as if she'd been invited to a champagne breakfast. Considering people have a tendency to sidestep trouble that they're not involved in, I have little doubt that she's been paid to perform her role in that farce and in turn help convince those people at the top of the garden that they also saw me attacking that frail old dear: your grandma—you wouldn't believe how easily people adopt suggestion as truth.” Sabrina took a mouthful of coffee. “So, dramatic...? Paranoid? If you think so, then by the time we finish talking, you're going to believe I'm bananas.”
“Well if you don't want me to think that, tell me what happened to dad.”
“Zachary, if I told you that, you'd think I'm bananas with a cherry on top. But hold on to this; I loved your father. I still do. And I haven't given up that one day he'll come back.”
“So he is still alive,” said Zachary, thumping the arm of the chair he sat in.
“I don't know...Honestly, I just don't know.” Sabrina shivered like an alcoholic who'd gone three days cold-turkey, and while working the crumpled tissue to collect the rheum seeping from her nose, she went to a bureau that stood on the other side of the chimney breast. “But, if ever you find a stranger in the house, always...always think it might be him before you assume it's a sneak-thief.”
“What? Are you really suggesting that Dad is alive...and that he might, one night, burglarize the house?”
Sabrina pulled open a compartment door that was top and center on the bureau and took a business card from the cubby. “I don't know what I'm suggesting, Buttercup. Take this.” She passed Zachary the card. “That's my solicitor. Your solicitor now too,” she said, flopping back onto the sofa. “I'll try to get an appointment with him this afternoon, if not first thing in the morning, and I'll make sure he has enough funds for...to cover what you might need.”
“Mum, you're sounding crazy; why might I need a solicitor? Just tell me what's going on.”
Sabrina took a deep breath, then pushed it out over her lips. “I want you to promise me you will never sell this house.”
“I can't, Mum; it's your house.”
“I mean when I’m gone; when it's your house. Even if, for any reason, you move away; just keep it. Use it as collateral to borrow against if you must, but never sell it. And tell your children not to sell it either.”
Zachary was thinking that maybe he should have only given his mother one of those yellow capsules. “Mum, I don't have any children. I'm not even eighteen yet.”
“I know, Buttercup; but you will have at least one child.”
“How can you know that?”
Sabrina smiled. “I've had a glimpse of the future. Now promise me you won’t sell the house.”
“All right, I promise.”
“Regarding what's going on, I can't tell you anything, but your grandfather has just accused me of murdering your father.”
“I know Dad's disappearance was mysterious, but that's ridiculous.”
Sabrina got busy with the tissue again before she said, “Your grandfather is a man of immense influence, a top-level civil servant. He's been a direct advisor to at least four prime ministers.”
“Really?” Zachary's squeezed a short snort through flared nostrils.
“Yes, really. And as I said, I don't know why, or what he's up to, or why now, but we can be absolutely certain that today's visit and that silly little hoo-har on the doorstep has some kind of purpose.”
“Is he trying to take the house from you?” asked Zachary, his eyes slitting and head tilting to one side.
“I think he might be; Paul borrowed some money from him to fix up the place when we first moved in here. Of course, with what happened, it never got paid back...I don't even know how much it was. Next to nothing to a man like your grandfather; but it seems to have suddenly become an issue with him. But why? And why now...? I just have no idea.” With one hand massaging the truth and the other stirring a pot of lies, Sabrina was worried that she might be caught in a trap of intricacies. Also, she knew Zachary was smart; he would find things out as and when necessary, but right now she needed to wriggle out of this conversation. “I wish I could tell you more, Buttercup, but I really have to phone my...our solicitor.”
Zachary was ready with a hundred questions, but as soon as she put the phone down, Sabrina was pushing her arms into the sleeves of her coat, saying, “How lucky is that? I've managed to get an appointment, but I've got less than an hour to get there. Sorry, Buttercup, must dash.”
The banging on the door was a lot louder than when Zachary's grandparents had come to call, and it was a lot earlier in the morning. Pulling on a shirt while running down the stairs, he slipped three from the bottom and was on his ass when the door crashed open.
“Police!” boomed the man with shiny shoes and a lightweight raincoat over collar and tie. “Here's the warrant.” Arching over Zachary the officer waved a folded document. “Stand aside, son, and let us get on with our official business.”
Getting up and rubbing his back, Zachary said, “Can I read that before you start searching the place?”
“No you can't,” said the police officer as a man dressed almost identically to him and three uniformed constables started up the stairs. “We're not here to do any searching; this is an arrest warrant.”
“Then would you please show me that?” Zachary asked.
“Did I say I'm here arresting you?”
“Then I won’t be showing you an arrest warrant. Will I?”
Upstairs, the sound of thumping feet was soon drowned under a tide of curses. Zachary stepped across the hallway as the officers started to manhandle his mother down the staircase. Back pressed against the wall, he realized there were more people at the doorstep, another two uniformed officers, and what he took to be two medical attendants—one of them holding a straitjacket. And though Zachary couldn't be sure in the grey morning light, on the far side of the road was...well it was a tall man wearing a hat.
As the capture-team coerced Sabrina between Zachary and the officer in charge, she wrenched an arm free and threw a fist. “You bastard!” she screamed as the officer dodged back, banging his head on the wall, and then tilted forward to collect a bloody nose from Sabrina's punch.
He just couldn't stop himself: “Oh yes, Mum!” Zachary cried. For his endorsement, one of the cops gave him a sharp dig under his ribs that sent him sprawling sideways to the floor.
The same cop grabbed Sabrina's arm as she was lining up a jab on the already injured officer, and as several of the uniforms coordinated to drag her out from the house, she yelled, “Zachary, if you need money, go to Mister Wells.”
The officer with the bloody nose was the last to leave.
“Where are you taking her?” Zachary demanded.
“Are you her next of kin?” the officer asked.
“Yes, I'm her son,” said Zachary.
“Damn!” the officer whispered under his breath, fishing a handkerchief from his pocket. “How old are you, son?”